There are many varied opinions on the use of trekking poles (walking poles) – including amongst those travelling and walking with us and even amongst our tour leaders! We take the view that the use of poles is discretionary and recognise that they can often be a useful tool to aid you when out on a walk. We do find that many who join our holidays find trekking poles hugely beneficial.
By using poles, as much as 20% of your bodyweight is taken by your arms and off your legs during each step down, which over a long walk can make quite a significant reduction in accumulated stress on your knee joints – even more important if you're also carrying a heavy daypack.
If you’re new to walking with poles, it’s a good idea to get used to walking with them before you go on holiday, ideally on a variety of terrains. Until you get used to walking with them, you’re likely to find them difficult to co-ordinate and may even trip over them. Although using a single pole has benefits, two poles are usually better as they allow you to walk in a more rhythmic and balanced manner. Place one pole and the opposite foot down at the same time and try to get used to a comfortable rhythmic walking style.
Using the straps on walking poles can be a great boon as they can take a lot of the weight, you’re putting on the poles without gripping the handles too hard. On the flip side, if you’re on challenging terrain and are likely to need to reach for a handhold, take your hands out of the tape loops so that the poles can be discarded in the event of a slip or fall.
If you do choose to use trekking poles, please make sure that you have the rubber tips covering the sharp metal points. There is increasing evidence that the bare metal tips are damaging footpaths both in the UK and abroad. Be aware however that rubber pole tips can come off in use on the trail, and that they can slip on steep ground and on wet rocky terrain.
There are a wide variety of poles available. Adjustable poles are ideal, both to collapse them for easy storage in your daypack when you don’t need them and to adjust the length when going up or downhill. Some poles also have a shock absorbing facility.
Top Tips when using Trekking Pole
Holding your poles: When holding your poles vertically, your elbow should be a right angle. On softer ground, you may need to lengthen your pole as the tip of the pole is likely to sink into the ground. To get the best benefit from your poles, you'll also want to shorten your pole when walking uphill and lengthen the pole when descending.
Wrist Straps: The wrist tapes can be a great boon, but to avoid injury, it's best to take the loops from your wrists so that you can quickly discard your poles in a fall.
Practice using your poles before your holiday: To get the most out of your poles before your holiday or a big walk, it's worthwhile taking the time to get used to the feel of walking with your poles, finding the right length for various terrains, and how to place them accurately without breaking your step.
Using the pole-tip baskets: As the baskets can get caught in undergrowth and bushes, it's best to take them off unless you're crossing particularly soft ground or snow.
Don't forget how to balance when not using your poles: If you get used to relying on your poles, your legs can forget how to balance without them!
Rivers and Rock-hopping: Use your poles to give yourself additional points of contact with the ground when crossing rivers, gullies and rocky terrain.